Execs out as Yahoo! retools

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Yahoo! announced a sweeping reorganization of the company late Tuesday, ushering out top execs including Lloyd Braun, president of Yahoo! Media Group, and chief operating officer Dan Rosensweig.

Rumblings of an impending shake-up had been swirling for weeks around the beleaguered Internet giant, brought low in recent months by a dwindling stock price while rivals like Google surged. High-level employees were notified in an internal webcast Tuesday afternoon of plans to restructure the company into three distinct divisions serving consumers, advertisers and publishers.

"We already have leading positions in many areas across the Internet, from community to communications to media content," Yahoo! chairman and CEO Terry Semel said. "With our new organization and a focused growth strategy that leverages our core strengths, we're well positioned to extend our leadership in the years ahead."

Yahoo! chief financial officer Susan Decker, will lead what will be known as the advertiser and publisher group, one of the three new divisions, along with the technology group and the audience group. Landing a key role that could position her as a successor to Semel, Decker will be focused on maximizing revenue from advertising sales and content distribution.

The technology group will be led by Farzad Nazem, chief technology officer at Yahoo! The company's reorganization will be completed by the end of the first quarter. A Yahoo! spokeswoman declined comment on whether layoffs will be a part of the restructuring.

It was a tumultuous two-year run for Braun, former chairman of ABC Entertainment, who was continuously dogged by rumors of imminent dismissal and disagreements with Semel, who also is a Hollywood veteran as former chairman of Warner Bros.

Braun's surprise appointment in November 2004 to oversee Yahoo!'s media and entertainment properties was hailed at the time as an indication of a sea change in the Web portal business, leading to the Internet's transformation into a mainstream medium.

Although he spoke of grand plans of establishing original programming at Yahoo! Braun abandoned that strategy this year, opting for the less expensive acquired and user-generated content. During his tenure, Braun's division launched relatively modest efforts including globe-trotting news blog the Hot Zone With Kevin Sites and viral-video countdown the 9.

It is unclear whether Braun's division, Yahoo! Media Group, will survive. It is not one of the three divisions Yahoo! is implementing going forward and seems to be encompassed by what is known as the audience group, which will emphasize social networking and user-generated content.

The company is conducting a search for an executive to head the audience group.

Rosensweig is departing Yahoo! at the end of March on his accord, according to a Yahoo! spokesperson. He had been chief operating officer at Yahoo! since 2002, following stints at CNet and Ziff Davis, having spent 18 years at the latter.

"Dan was one of my first executive hires at Yahoo! and I am very appreciative of the friendship, leadership, vision and passion that he has brought to Yahoo!" Semel said.

The Yahoo! release announcing the changes did not mention Braun or his departure but elaborated on Rosensweig's exit.

Braun did release a statement through a Yahoo! spokeswoman. "Over the last two years, the Yahoo! Media Group has developed and launched a groundbreaking template for the next generation of media experiences on the Internet," he said. "There is much more to come in the months ahead. I am proud to have led this team of extraordinary professionals, and I wish Yahoo! the greatest success in the future."

Before joining Yahoo! Braun spent six years at Walt Disney Co. as chairman of Buena Vista TV Prods., co-chairman and chairman of ABC Entertainment TV Group. While at the network, he was credited with the idea for the network's hit "Lost" and shepherding the project through the development process.

Braun left in the major executive shake-up at ABC in spring 2004, following the network's dive in the ratings.

Yahoo! has weathered one public-relations nightmare after another in recent months, culminating last month in the so-called Peanut Butter Manifesto, a leaked internal memo written by Yahoo! senior vp Brad Garlinghouse that suggested that the portal was spreading itself too thin.

Several top Yahoo! execs also have recently exited. David Katz, head of Yahoo! Sports and Studios, was confirmed to have left Monday, and Michael Marquez, the company's director of corporate development, was reportedly tapped by CBS' new interactive digital strategy division. Bill Demas, senior vp at the company's publisher network, also left in November along with William Johnson, vp and general manager of the group.

But earlier in the day, Wenda Harris Millard, chief sales officer at Yahoo!, downplayed the recent executive losses speaking at the UBS Global Media & Entertainment Conference, saying that it is not uncommon for a company that employs 11,000 people to have workers leave.

"All these old-media companies are dying for our expertise because they certainly don't have it," Millard said. "So of course we're going to get hit on."

Nellie Andreeva in Los Angeles and Alex Woodson in New York contributed to this report.
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